South Dakota trades get first project labor agreement

On June 16, construction unions in South Dakota signed off on the first Project Labor Agreement in the state for a project that will actually be built. On Aug. 2, ground was broken for Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Deer Creek Station near White, S.D., just 20 miles from the Minnesota border.

By Larry Sillanpa, Duluth Labor World editor
The $405 million project is a 300-net megawatt natural gas generation facility. It is expected to take about 18 months to build, employing well over 400 construction workers. When completed in June 2012 it is expected to have 31 full-time employees and be connected to the grid via a 345-kilovolt transmission line less than one mile in length.

“This is the second South Dakota PLA, but the first we’ll actually get to work on, and we really need the work for our members,” said Eastern South Dakota Building & Construction Trades Council Executive Director Mike Rifen.

A previous PLA was for the Big Stone II coal plant but it was never built.

The Deer Creek PLA is a National Construction Agreement with International Unions of the Building & Construction Trades.

Rifen said the PLA/NCA wasn’t as big a fight as expected because Basin Electric has had some history working with unions for powerhouses they’ve built in North Dakota, which, like South Dakota, is a right-to-work state.

The 1947 Taft Hartley Act amended the National Labor Relations Act to, among other things, allow state legislatures to outlaw union security clauses. A right-to-work law prevents unions from negotiating contracts that require employers to fire workers who refuse to join the union. The South Dakota AFL-CIO can claim only about 8,000 members.

Oscar Boldt Construction of Appleton, Wis., is the general contractor for Deer Creek. They are well known in the Midwest as a good union contractor. Finding union subcontractors for all aspects of the project could be a little tougher.

“There is a low density addendum in the PLA that calls for as many union subs as possible, but if one can’t be found then they can use a non-union contractor,” said Rifen. “We’re hoping for a hundred percent union, but we have free range to talk to any subs.”

With the work picture so poor throughout the Midwest, unions may be well served to have their signatory contractors bid on Deer Creek work.

“South Dakota is fertile ground because of all the energy work coming there,” said Mike Sundin, a Business Marketing Development Consultant for Painters & Allied Crafts District Council 82. “I’m proud to have been a small part of something so historic for South Dakota trade unions and we’re hoping it’s the beginning of something big.”

Rifen said the economy will play a big part in their hopes for more union projects.

“Basin’s (Electric) looking at a coal burning facility at Mobridge (South Dakota), and they’re a leader in clean coal technology,” Rifen said.

Getting the first PLA in a region is always the hardest one. Their success rate breeds more of them, however, as developers, builders, and unions find projects coming in on time, under budget, and employing the area’s union workers.

Larry Sillanpa edits The Labor World, the official publication of the Duluth Central Body, AFL-CIO. Learn more at The Labor World website.